Comfort Nursing

The Comfort Theory in Nursing

baby holding boob, baby breastfeeding, comfort nursing

Comfort nursing is something not all mothers choose to do, mostly because of the misconceptions there are around it. We would like to show you the positive side of nursing for comfort.

You might often hear people discouraging you from allowing your baby to use you as a "pacifier or dummy" and telling you that it creates "bad habits."

Pacifiers (dummies) are only a recent invention. For thousands of years, babies were breastfed, whether by their mother or by a wet-nurse. Formulas, bottles, and pacifiers - they didn't exist. And surprise surprise, after what were they modeled? The breasts and breast milk.

We have been led to believe that we can spoil our children by holding them too much, and this includes breastfeeding them for comfort. We think they'll become more demanding as they grow up, yet research shows the opposite is true. Babies who's touch needs are met, who are given love and attention when they need it, turn out to be more social. That is because they learned to trust. 

Nothing comforts a baby like the feel of their mother's skin, the smell of her, the sound of her voice and heartbeat... all these things are what comfort nursing automatically provides.

Breastfeeding provides comfort, contentment, and relaxation to babies. Breastfeeding can also calm and reassure them.

Non-nutritive suckling, also known as "comfort sucking" is as vital to any baby, as the nutrients received from breast milk. Comfort breastfeeding only becomes a problem, when the mother starts to feel overwhelmed.

A mother needs to keep in mind, that increased time at the breast is not always a sign of comfort sucking or low milk supply, it may also indicate a growth spurt. Therefore, her baby will be hungry more often.

Lots of skin to skin contact and kangaroo mother care is recommended. 


Non Nutritive Sucking Benefits

The benefits of comfort nursing

  • The baby learns to trust and interact.
  • It improves parental attachment and bonding.
  • As mentioned above, it is comforting and reassuring.
  • It decreases a baby's heart rate, which helps him/her relax and sleep.
  • It improves mouth and jaw development. Breastfed babies, in general, have stronger jaw muscles, and rarely need orthodontic procedures and treatments or braces later in life. Crooked, overcrowded teeth are much more common in bottle-fed children, but not in breastfed children. That is because babies have to suck on a bottle teat to get the milk out, whereas breastfeeding requires more of a massage motion, not actual sucking. (Explanation: The movement used for bottle feeding can also be described as a piston-like movement. Breastfed babies instead use a series of compressions, rhythmically moving their tongues from front to back to "massage" the milk out of the breast. Two entirely different movements used!)
  • Because of the stronger muscles in a breastfed baby's jaw, they can speak more clearly.
  • Your nipple and breast forms according to the shape of baby's mouth. But when bottle feeding or using pacifiers/dummies all the time, the baby's mouth will form to accommodate the shape of the teat; this can change the entire shape of the child's face!
  • Breastfeeding also doesn't allow the milk to pool in baby's mouth as bottle feeding does; this is the biggest reason for tooth decay and cavities in children. Breast milk prevents tooth decay. 
  • Babies who are breastfed also can't be overfed. Breast milk is absorbed and used optimally by a baby's digestive system. And when they only suck for comfort, they don't necessarily consume much milk. Hence the term non-nutritive sucking. Your body knows how much (or how little!) to give your baby.
  • Breast milk is not stored in a baby's body the same way that formula is. Once the baby starts crawling and then walking, they work off the "fat cells" much easier than when formula fed. Formula fat cells are harder to lose, and this is one of the reasons why the experts warn parents about the higher risk of obesity, as a result of formula feeding.
  • Sometimes a mother might feel a little guilty for breastfeeding her child to sleep, fearing that she is allowing a bad habit to form. Why not use breastfeeding to get your baby to sleep? It comes in very useful!

The benefits of providing the skin to skin comfort far outweighs all the concerns many mothers have about comfort nursing. Breastfeeding is so much more than just a way of providing nutrition!


Feeling Overwhelmed?

How to limit nursing for comfort, if the mother feels overwhelmed.

  • Carry your baby in a sling, this will assure your baby, and he/she might not need to seek as much comfort from the breasts as before. 
  • Recognize the signs of sleeping at the breast, such as: flutter sucking, facial grimaces and twitching muscles. This will ensure that you don’t get stuck comfort nursing, while your baby is sleeping. (that's only if you don't want to comfort nurse)


Using a Dummy

Using a dummy as a soother, instead of breastfeeding for comfort

  • Try to avoid the use of a soother for the first six weeks; using it can sometimes result in a baby drinking less at the breast, which could cause a low milk supply. It’s okay to use a dummy after this period, if the constant comfort nursing becomes a little too much for you. (just remember, weaning from a pacifier may be difficult for some children)
  • Only use a dummy if your milk supply is fully established.


Baby is Not Drinking Enough!

What if your baby is falling asleep while breastfeeding, and is not drinking enough?

  • Try “switch nursing": When your baby starts to fall asleep, you can switch him/her to the other breast, this will usually wake a baby enough to stimulate a let down on that breast.
  • Try breast compression: This will keep your milk flowing, which will keep your baby drinking.
  • Try tickling your baby’s feet and putting a cold facecloth on his/her's feet.

More information about keeping a sleepy baby awake while breastfeeding.


Can you overfeed a breastfed baby?


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